Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Roses are red…

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cotillionWhen curmudgeonly old miser Matthew Penicuik suffers a particularly bad episode of gout, he thinks it’s time to decide who will inherit his considerable fortune once he’s gone. Not that any of his relatives believe him to be in any danger, hypochondria being another of his endearing qualities. Many years earlier, he had taken in Kitty Charing, the orphaned daughter of a friend, and he wants to be sure she’ll be provided for. So he hits upon the infamous notion of announcing that he will leave all of his money to whichever of his great-nephews marries Kitty, and invites them all to come for a visit – and to propose to poor Kitty. Everyone assumes Jack will be the lucky man – not only is he Great-Uncle Matthew’s favourite, but Kitty has had a crush on him since she was a schoolroom miss. But Jack’s pride won’t let him dance to Great-Uncle Matthew’s tune and anyway he’s not ready to get married, being too busy womanising all over town, so he refuses to come. In a fit of pique, Kitty persuades her cousin, the Honourable Freddy Standen, to pretend to become engaged to her and take her to London for a month on the pretext of meeting his parents…

‘You think I’ve got brains?’ he said, awed. ‘Not confusing me with Charlie?’

‘Charlie?’ uttered Miss Charing contemptuously. ‘I daresay he has book-learning, but you have—you have address, Freddy!’

‘Well, by Jove!’ said Mr Standen, dazzled by this new vision of himself.

Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances are my idea of literary chicken soup – they’re what I turn to if I have a cold or a fit of the dismals or, as now, hit a brick wall with some of the stuff I’ve been reading. She writes with such humour and the books are generally light and frothy fun. The heroes are usually rich, often proud and always handsome. The heroines are always strong, usually feisty and spirited, and would never dream of marrying for anything other than love. In fact, they are all variations of Darcy and Lizzie, and the road to true love is always as convoluted as in Pride and Prejudice, but stripped of the serious side of that book. Heyer is fun and romance, pure and simple, and the inevitable happy ending in no way diminishes the pleasure of the journey.

Oh, come on! You didn't really think I'd miss an opportunity like that...?
Oh, come on! You didn’t really think I’d miss an opportunity like that…?

‘I daresay Freddy might not be a great hand at slaying dragons- but one has not the smallest need of a man who can kill dragons!’

Cotillion is my favourite of all Heyer’s romances. Kitty is such a likeable heroine – kept countrified and dowdy all her life, she discovers the joys of clothes-shopping, hairdressing, learning to dance, and is soon able to stand her ground with the best of them. Freddy’s friends and family have always considered him nothing more than a fashionable young man about town – a Bertie Woosterish figure – but as he has to pull Kitty out of one scrape after another, he shows a level of intelligence and competence no-one ever suspected he possessed. The supporting cast is the usual Regency line-up of fops and dandies, grande dames and put-upon companions, flirts and innocent young misses, out-and-outers and Pinks of the Ton. The assorted great nephews vying with varying degrees of enthusiasm for Kitty’s hand add an extra level of humour to the book. And then there’s Jack – all charming exterior and wicked interior.

Upon Mrs Scorton’s reappearance, she found herself confronted, not by the fool of his family, but by the Honourable Frederick Standen, a Pink of the Pinks, who knew to a nicety how to blend courtesy with hauteur, and who informed her, with exquisite politeness, that he rather fancied his cousin was tired, and would like to be taken home. One of the uninvited guests, entering the box in Eliza’s wake, ventured on a warm sally, found himself being inspected from head to foot through a quizzing-glass, and stammered an apology.

Will Kitty realise Freddy’s superior worth before it’s too late? Will Freddy begin to reconsider his bachelor ways? Will Kitty’s friend Olivia marry the old roué Sir Henry Gosford for money or find a way to marry the gorgeous Chevalier d’Evron for love? Will Great-Uncle Matthew ever recover from his gout? And will I read this book again and again and again? Entertaining, mood-enhancing fun to brighten up the greyest day!

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